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The Gender Divide: Differences Between Men & Women with MS

Multiple sclerosis (MS), like many other autoimmune conditions, is much more common in women than in men. However, many men live with MS, and they tend to experience a more aggressive disease course compared to women. We wanted to dig into the results of our MS In America 2019 survey to see other differences between how men and women experience life with MS. 4,965 women with MS completed the survey along with 939 men with MS.

MS misdiagnosis

Past years’ survey results have shown us that misdiagnosis is common in the MS community. MS symptoms can mimic several other conditions, so it can sometimes take time to get the correct diagnosis. This year, our survey found that women are actually more likely to be misdiagnosed at first before receiving their MS diagnosis.

Women are more likely than men to be misdiagnosed before their MS diagnosis. (43% vs. 37%)

MS progression

Relapsing-remitting MS is the most common type of MS for both men and women. However, women are much more likely to live with RRMS compared to men who are more frequently diagnosed with progressive stages of MS, like secondary-progressive MS and primary-progressive MS.

9% of women have PPMS and 15% have SPMS compared to 20% of men living with PPMS and 18% with SPMS.

MS and other health conditions

MS is often just the tip of the iceberg for those living with multiple chronic health conditions. In particular, conditions like migraine, chronic pain, and fibromyalgia (among others) are more common in women with MS compared to men with MS.

Women were more likely to also live with migraine (24%), asthma (15%), chronic pain (18%), irritable bowel syndrome (14%), and fibromyalgia (10%).

Common MS symptoms

Both men and women experience a variety of MS symptoms on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, but there were some differences in which symptoms were more commonly experienced by men who completed the survey.

Men with MS experienced muscle weakness (77%), spasticity (73%), sexual dysfunction (58%), and foot drop (54%) more commonly than women.

Strength and optimism in the face of MS

Life with MS can be extremely challenging, and adapting to new limitations and lifestyle changes isn’t easy for anyone. Many women with MS reported trying to approach their “new normal” with a hopeful outlook.

Women with MS were more likely to feel optimistic about their futures (55%) and that MS made them stronger (41%).

Honesty and in-person support

It can be hard to open about the true impact of MS on daily life. Many people avoid “burdening” their loved ones with the reality of how they are feeling. Men who completed the survey were more open about their symptoms and more likely to reach out for support in-person compared to women.

Men with MS were less likely to downplay their symptoms (50%) and more likely to seek in-person support (12%).

We want to say a huge “thank you!” to everyone in the MS community who took the time to share details about their life with MS with us. Living with MS is a different experience for each and every person. We wanted to highlight some of the main differences we noticed between men and women who responded to our survey. Did any of these ring true for you?

The Multiple Sclerosis In America 2019 survey was conducted online from April through June of 2019. Of the 6,034 people who completed the survey, 5,911 were people who have been diagnosed with MS and 123 were caregivers of people with MS.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The MultipleSclerosis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • Rodger
    1 month ago

    I know my MS was diagnosed 20 years ago within 3 weeks and the neurotises diagnose me with PPMS and then had no idea what it was. Now I do know more now. This is a mess of life to live with.

  • Janus Galante moderator
    1 month ago

    Rodger,
    I hear you, and please know that your’re not alone.
    If you need a listening ear or a place to vent, you are welcome here anytime! Janus

  • kahartman
    2 months ago

    Hello my friends.how are everyone doing today? Today isnt a good day for me its rainy and damp and im hurting really bad.walking is hard as well.please pray for me as i will pray for everyone on here

  • Janus Galante moderator
    1 month ago

    Good morning kahartman,
    I hope the weather has improved for you, and that you’re feeling much better since you posted this! Janus

  • Alan Z
    2 months ago

    It is depressing that there are not more resources for men with MS. Somewhere we can discuss how we are doing. I would never respond to a question or topic regarding women’s sexual or bodily functions and if someone wants to say this is sexist go ahead! It doesn’t diminish the fact that men with MS have few resources.

  • Shelby Comito moderator
    2 months ago

    I hear you, @alanz, and I’m so glad you chimed in and shared your thoughts. One of our advocates, Devin, actually just wrote an article about this very topic in this article – https://multiplesclerosis.net/living-with-ms/men-sex-bladder-dysfunction/ I hope you find it helpful. Thank you again for reaching out and please feel free to do so anytime – this is a safe space – Shelby, MultipleSclerosis.net Team Member

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